How George III’s 1809 Golden Jubilee was celebrated in Bath

On the 25th October 1809, the jubilee of King George III was celebrated across the nation. Opinion was divided as to whether the jubilee had been celebrated a year too early; 25th October 1809 was the first day of the 50th year of George III’s reign, he had not actually reigned yet for a full fifty years. It was a grand project instigated – and to a large degree planned – by a middle-aged, middle-class lady living in the Welsh borders, a truly amazing woman who is the subject of our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs.

George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815
George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

The jubilee was celebrated across the nation, and even on board ships and in foreign territories under British rule. Today, we are going to look at the celebrations that took place in Bath 209 years ago today.

Bath Abbey by an unknown artist
Bath Abbey; Victoria Art Gallery

The Jubilee was this day celebrated here with every demonstration of loyalty. The festival was ushered in by the ringing of bells, and display of flags on the different churches. At eleven o’clock the Mayor and Corporation, accompanied by the Bath Volunteer reg. of Infantry, the Young Gentleman of the Grammar School, the children of the Charity Schools, and the Friendly Societies, (33 in number, containing 2,487 members, each Society distinguished by its particular banner and colours,) went in grand procession to the Abbey Church where an admirable sermon was preached by the Rev Mr Marshall. Part of the Societies went to Walcot Church, where an equally excellent discourse was delivered by the Rev Mr Barry. Collections were made at the doors of both churches for the benevolent purpose of releasing the debtors in the County Gaol.

Looking down Grove Street to Walcot Church.
Looking down Grove Street to Walcot Church. Victoria Art Gallery

On returning to the Hall, cakes and wine were given to the juvenile part of the procession. The Volunteers marched to the Crescent Field, where they fired a feu de joie; and the members of the Friendly Societies departed to their respective club-rooms, in which they dined together in much harmony; each man received towards his expenses 1s. 6d. from the public subscription for that purpose. The Children of the Blue Coat Charity School, about 120 in number, sat down in their school-room to a plentiful dinner of roast beef and plumb pudding, provided at the expense of a highly-respected and loyal gentleman, a resident of this city.

The Crescent at Bath
The Crescent at Bath. Victoria Art Gallery

The Mayor and Corporation, the clergy, with a select party, dined at the White Hart. In the evening there was a ball at the Town Hall. Jubilee medals, with ribbons having suitable mottos in gold letters, were generally worn.

The 'White Hart' Inn, Bath by John Charles Maggs
A slightly later view of the ‘White Hart’ Inn, Bath by John Charles Maggs; Victoria Art Gallery

John Jones, esq, of Woolley, near Bradford, gave to 800 poor persons of that neighbourhood, a sufficient quantity of bread, strong beer, and mutton, in the presence of a large concourse of loyal subjects.

Messrs Divett, Price, Jackson, and Co. regaled nearly 500 persons employed in their manufactory at Bradford by giving them three fine fat sheep roasted whole, plenty of bread, and a large potion of good Wilthshire strong beer.

Bradford, Wiltshire, c.1805.
Bradford, Wiltshire, c.1805. Victoria Art Gallery

The debtors in our city gaol, five in number, were this morning liberated from confinement by the munificence of the sheriffs, Geo. Crook, and Geo. Lye, esqrs, who, from their private purse, settled the creditors’ claims, amounting to 80l.

Mrs Biggs was no radical in her political views, and she initially fought against the jubilee being used for charitable aims; she wanted to see grand and joyous celebrations, with people feasting well and toasting their king with a mug of ale or a glass of wine. Her plans were hijacked to a certain degree and she had to accept that money was put to other uses than celebrating on the day, but she lobbied – anonymously and successfully – for the continuation of her original aims. You can discover how in our book, A Georgian Heroine.

As some of our long-term readers will know, we also host a ‘sister-blog’, The Diaries of Fanny Chapman. Fanny was a middle-class spinster who lived in Bath through the late Georgian and into the Victorian eras, often in company with her aunts. Her diaries from 1807-1812 and 1837-1841 have survived and we were given permission to publish them; they are a wonderful first-hand resource.

Unfortunately, while Fanny heard the jubilee celebrations in Bath, and no doubt was told all about them by the family servants who took advantage of the impromptu holiday, she herself largely stayed indoors, only venturing out for a quick errand. Still, we thought it might be interesting to read her diary entries for the relevant days.

An Account of the Celebration of the Jubilee on the 25th October 1809

Tuesday, 24 October, 1809

A most beautiful day.  My Aunt was so unwell she did not get up till near dinner time.  Admiral and Mrs Phillip calld and sat some time.  He came up stairs.  They were both very friendly and kind.  I went to Mrs Vassall’s to ask if she intended to fulfill her engagement of dinner with us today.  She said she did.  Saw Mrs Horne with her.  I went and ordered a couple of chicken and then calld at my mother’s, but they were not at home.  Only Mrs Vassall and Betsey dined here.  Mr Wiltshire came in while we were at dinner, but did not stay long.  It raind fast in the evening and Mrs Vassall and Betsey went home in a Chair between eight and nine o’clock.  We went to bed early, but were disturbed after twelve o’clock by the ringing of bells and firing of guns to usher in the Jubilee, which is to take place tomorrow on the King’s entering the 50th year of his Reign.  My Aunt heard from Cooper!!!

View of Bath by Edmund Garvey
View of Bath by Edmund Garvey; Number 1 Royal Crescent

Wednesday, 25 October, 1809

A beautiful day.  The whole town was in motion early to see the Processions of the Corporate Volunteers and different Clubs to Church.  All the servants, except Kitty, went out before breakfast and did not return till after two o’clock.  Mrs Gibson calld (for the first time) and sat an hour here.  Miss Workman came in the morning, before we were up, to say she had got a room in the square to see the Procession, where she wishd us to come.  My Aunt P was not well enough to go, but tried to persuade me.  However, I had not the least inclination and was not sorry to be able to stay at home.  I was obliged to go to the Sidney Hotel before dinner to enquire if Mr Gale had heard any thing about the house he mentiond to my Aunt. He told me the proprietor of it was come to Bath and would call on my Aunt today or tomorrow. There was a constant noise of ringing of bells and firing guns the whole day and the bouncing of squibs and crackers in the evening.  I heard from my Uncle James to say all our shares, except one, were blanks and that one was only fifteen pounds.  It began to rain about ten o’clock and continued, I believe, most part of the night.

The Sydney Hotel, Bath
The Sydney Hotel, Bath. Victoria Art Gallery

(To discover more about Fanny Chapman and her diaries, follow the link at the bottom of this page.)

Sources not mentioned above:

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 26th October 1809

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